Mission Delhi - Disha Dhawan, Daryaganj

Mission Delhi – Disha Dhawan, Daryaganj

Mission Delhi - Disha Dhawan, Daryaganj

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

She wakes up at her Palam Vihar residence only after her husband brings her the morning chai. The breakfast subzi-kachori is later ordered from the Brajbasi snack stall nearby. (Nobody in the family likes to cook, all the meals are ordered from outside.) As the morning fades, her husband and their two sons leave for the bookstore in distant Daryaganj, separately, in irregular interims. By noon, she too leaves to join them. Takes her an hour to reach the bookstore, where the whole family spends the day working together, and noisily quarrelling and chatting with each other as all happy families do.

Oftentimes she brings along her dholak.

This afternoon in the bookstore, with customers browsing the shelves—somebody is picking up a National Geographic from the 1970s, somebody is hesitantly flipping through a first edition Vikram Seth—Disha Dhawan is sitting by a pile of Heartstopper paperbacks. The dholak is on her lap; she is rejigging its dori, the taut cotton cord laced along the drum’s wooden body.

“Dholak gives me so much happiness,” she remarks, her face dissolving into an infectious smile, making everyone who sees her break into a feel-good smile too. The dholak isn’t intended for the bookstore, she clarifies in an urgent tone as if the fact is important to her. Disha plays it at the Shivshakti Mandir, on the back-lane, where “I sing with my mandli” of fellow bhajan singers. The temple is smaller than Disha’s bookstore, but does accommodate a dozen neighbourhood ladies. While the mandli’s repertoire includes a wide range of devotional songs, Disha’s go-to dholak bhajans are almost always devoted to her beloved Maa Sherawali. This one being closest to her heart: Mayya bhawan mein kaise aaon, sher khara pehre mein…

An autodidact, Disha mastered the dholak on her own—from “daal ke dabbe!” Laughter seizes her expressions at the reveal. When her boys were young, she explains, she would make them sit in front of Maa Sherawali—my “pukki wali maa”—-and “I would make music by drumming the empty lentil boxes and sing bhajans… it would make the kids happy.”

She finally keeps the dholak on the floor, which is crowded with book cartons. “When I play this dholak, I feel devi-devta filling up my house with their blessings… that my children will go far in life… it gives me sukh-shanti.”

The husband’s 55th birthday fell a week ago. Naturally Disha celebrated the occasion with her dholak. But her first bhajan —Naino ka nahe kasoor yaad teri aavre re saawariya— wasn’t on Maa Sherawali. Because “he is a Krishna bhakt.”

Disha now gets up to join her mandir mandli.

[This is the 544th portrait of Mission Delhi project]